Trusting the Process

April 19th, 2019 by Kaitlyn Patterson

-By Kaitlyn Patterson, Team Athletic Mentors athlete

As a rising fourth year medical student, I enjoy writing as an opportunity to reflect on ideas relevant to both medicine and athletics as this is an obvious reflection of my daily life.  I am intrigued with the parallels between the process of physician and athlete training and it is a fun challenge to try to organize these ideas into cohesive posts.

One of my college cross country coach’s mantras was to “trust the process.” I didn’t give it as much thought at the time, but have come to recognize the weight of this task. The “process” is usually not glamorous or social media worthy. It involves consistency and a steadfast commitment to the basics. In athletics, this means doing the “boring” things right everyday- sleep, nutrition, stress management, recovery and training stimulus. In medicine, the process is less straightforward but still requires meticulous attention to the foundations everyday- asking the right questions, meticulous exams, thoughtful clinical decision making and effective communication. When you are in the midst of either process, sometimes it can be hard to measure progress or judge success. Feedback is a powerful tool but sometimes the feedback we receive isn’t as straightforward or easy to interpret as we would like.  This grey area, where we are working hard but a bit unsure if we are making progress, is the most challenging for anyone- be it athletes, students, physicians, or any professional.

The process of medical training feels like occupying the grey area constantly. Medicine in itself involves more uncertainty than we like to admit, making the process of learning that much more challenging. It involves constant questioning of your own capabilities as a healthcare provider, decision maker, and communicator without obvious feedback. Despite benchmarks and evaluations, quantifying meaningful advancement in this space is challenging. Occasionally there will be glimpses of progress – sometimes with patient encounters that go especially well, moments of being spoken to as a physician colleague, or reminders of the transformation undergone over the past several years. However, feedback can be subtle and identifying both strengths and weaknesses requires practice in self-reflection.  Although the learning process is formally measured in years and benchmarks, it has become increasingly apparent that the process never actually ends as it is persistent curiosity, reflection and attention to the basics are habits of the best physicians.

In athletics, it is easier to quantify progress in numbers: training hours, distance, power, and heart rate. Races are concrete and straightforward benchmarks of success: podiums, age group places, times, rankings. However, the grey areas still exist- such as the off-season, long training blocks, performance plateaus, or races that are not satisfying, yet not epic failures. Sometimes in these spaces, it seems like failures would be more satisfying to at least allow for more obvious feedback or take-away lessons.  These are the analogous grey spaces that requires a bit more self-reflection and attention to less-obvious feedback to continue the upward trajectory. However, these are also the hardest days or times to describe to others and process for ourselves.

I think we all have a baseline aversion to uncertainty and “grey areas.” I think this may be accentuated by the age of social media but I am not sure.  I do think it is the commitment to the process despite the noise, uncertainty and self-doubt that makes for the most sustainable and ultimately satisfying progress.  Definitely easier said than done, but something to strive for nevertheless.

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